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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Neighborhood leader threatens ballot initiative to halt roadway panhandling

10

November

TAMPA — A leading neighborhood association president on Wednesday threatened to organize a petition drive asking voters to ban all roadway panhandling in the city if council members don’t take action soon.

Spencer Kass, president of the Virginia Park Neighborhood Association, told a panel of officials studying the matter that the problem has gotten out of hand and local government needs to act.

"The situation cannot stand as it is," Kass told panel members during a meeting at County Center Wednesday. "It’s extremely dangerous."

Hillsborough County commissioners called for formation of a panel, consisting of representatives of local government and law enforcement, to determine how to respond to a growing number of people soliciting drivers from medians and roadway rights of way. The number of people seeking cash has drawn protests from many residents who say they are tired of being harassed and that aggressive panhandlers are causing a traffic hazard.

The county already has an ordinance banning roadway solicitations in unincorporated areas, though it is not always enforced. Tampa City Council members have thus far declined to adopt a ban.

Kass’ comments were largely directed to members of the panel from the city of Tampa, saying afterward that a ballot petition would be directed at the city. He noted Tampa Homeowners, an Association of Neighborhoods, an umbrella group representing 40 community associations, voted almost unanimously last month in support of a ban.

"It’s causing problems," said Randy Baron, president of THAN. "There’s a perception that it’s causing unsafe conditions."

Should Kass make good on his threat, he would face a challenge. He would need to collect signatures from registered voters representing at least 10 percent of the people who case ballots in the 2007 city election. That’s nearly 18,000 signatures, and they would have to be collected before the end of qualifying for this year’s city races, or Jan. 14, said Travis Abercrombie, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office.

Panelists Wednesday also heard from representatives of non-profit groups that serve the homeless. They noted that there has been a noticeable change in the makeup of people soliciting donations along roadways.

Some were until recently middle class families who have lost homes or their livelihoods and are desperate, they said. Before local governments take action, they need to get a better understanding of what is leading people to plead for cash and to help get them assistance so they don’t turn to crime.

You can ban roadway solicitations, but "you’re not going to take the desperation out of the people," said Connie Farrington, board member and volunteer coordinator for the I Am Hope Cafe in Brandon.

[Last modified: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 6:18pm]

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